How Anti-Poaching Laws Hurt More than Help

A Nantucket man is facing charges of smuggling whale teeth into the country for his art. The man, Charles Manghis, is an artist of scrimshaw, which is the art of carving sketches into whale teeth, a Nantucket practice for centuries.

The prosecution claims that Mr. Manghis bought his whale teeth from the Russian black market, where poachers tend to sell their illegally gotten goods, especially whale parts. For violating this law, Mr. Manghis could face five months in jail, as well as five years of home confinement and be forced to write a self-disgracing letter in the local paper denouncing his purchase of whale teeth.

Before this, he was one of the most noted scrimshaw artists in the area, and was even asked by both President Bushes to donate some of his work to the White House. Now, his career is being jeopardized because of a misguided set of laws that were intended to help stamp-out poaching, but instead helped drive the market for whale teeth, and ivory, underground, where it is almost impossible to control. By banning the sale and purchase of a good, the market doesn’t go away as lawmakers would like. Instead, it creates an underground market dominated by a small group of people who rake in millions. The practice of whale hunting, in this case, becomes even more difficult to control and regulate because a whole breed of poachers looking to make a quick buck can just break out the boats and go fishing without worrying about law enforcement beyond a forty-year old statute. Mr. Manghis may’ve broken the law, but the law he broke is misguided to begin with, and he was only interested in whale teeth for art, not for making a quick buck. Now, his love of scrimshaw, which is a timeless practice, is being attacked by eager prosecutors defending an unjust law.

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